Veterinarians and Vaccines: A Slow Learning Curve

Am I feeling frustrated and disappointed? You bet I am after reading an article titled, “Vets Slowly Move to 3-Year Vaccine Protocols” in the most recent edition of Veterinary Practice News. According to the article, approximately 60 percent of veterinarians continue to over-vaccinate their adult canine and feline patients by administering “core” vaccinations annually. This in spite of the fact that, for a decade now, it has been public knowledge that these vaccines provide a minimum of three year’s worth of protection.

Current canine and feline guidelines recommend that adult dogs be vaccinated against distemper, parvovirus and adenovirus, and adult cats against panleukopenia virus, herpesvirus and calicivirus no more than once every three years. Bear in mind, these are not rules or regulations (although I wish they were) they are simply guidelines. With the exception of rabies (mandated by state governments) veterinarians can vaccinate as often as they please.

The risks of over-vaccinating

What’s the downside to your pets receiving three-year vaccines once every year? My concerns extend far beyond wasting your money. (Please pause for a moment while I step up on my soapbox!) Vaccinations are so much more than simple shots. They truly qualify as medical procedures because each and every inoculation is associated with potential risks and benefits. While adverse vaccine reactions are infrequent and most are mild, every once in awhile a vaccine reaction becomes life threatening. As with any medical procedure, it is only logical to administer a vaccination if the potential benefits outweigh the risks. Giving a three-year vaccine once a year defies this logic in that the patient is exposed to all the risk of the procedure with absolutely no potential benefit. How in the world does this make sense?!

Why some vets continue to over-vaccinate

According to the Veterinary Practice News article, there are two reasons why approximately half of veterinarians continue to over-vaccinate. First, they believe as I do in the importance of annual health visits for dogs and cats. They also believe that the lure of a vaccine is the only way to convince their clients of the need for a yearly exam, and for good reason. In 2011, the “Bayer Veterinary Care Usage Study” documented that many people continue to believe that vaccinations are the only reason to bring their overtly healthy pet in for a veterinary visit.

The second explanation provided for over-vaccinating is that veterinarians don’t want to interrupt the revenue stream derived from annual inoculations. Despicable, in my book!

A possible third explanation is that some veterinarians remain unaware of current vaccination guidelines. If so, they must be living under a rock and begs the question, why would you want such an “outdated” individual caring for your pet’s health?

What you can do

Okay, now that I’ve ranted and raved a wee bit, I invite you to join me on my soapbox! Here are some things you can do to prevent over-vaccination.

  • Stand your ground! If your vet insists on administrating core vaccinations to your adult pets every year, share a copy of current canine and feline guidelines. You may need to agree to disagree and/or find yourself a more progressive veterinarian. Remember, you are your pet’s medical advocate and you have the final say so!
  • Bring your pets in for a yearly checkup, whether or not vaccinations are due. I cannot overstate the importance of an annual physical examination for pets of all ages. It’s a no brainer that the earlier diseases are detected, the better the outcome. The annual visit also provides a time to talk with your vet about nutrition, behavioral issues, parasite control, and anything else that warrants veterinary advice. Enough people bringing their pets in for annual wellness exams may convince more veterinarians to revise their vaccine protocols in accordance with current guidelines.
  • Spread the word by sharing the information in this blog post with your pet loving friends and family members.

To learn more about vaccinations, I encourage you to read “The Vaccination Conundrum” in Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life.

How frequently are your adult pets receiving their core vaccinations?

Best wishes,

Nancy Kay, DVM

Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health.   There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at,, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.

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22 Comments on “Veterinarians and Vaccines: A Slow Learning Curve

  1. Bless Jean Dodds, and everyone else who “gets it”. It takes a lot more effort to send the samples off to Dr D and pack it carefully but is SO worth it, and rabies can be titered as well. When the only rabies lab (for people or animals) does the testing, how can ANYONE argue with the results? It took much effort for me to find a good vet, and we travel a great distance to get there. The first year when my little one was due there was some balking and they made it so challenging I went to a holistic vet who drew the sample I could safely send directly to Dr Dodds (see the Hemopet website). What a difference a year makes: the vet was willing to help with the process. Of course they charged for an office visit, but that was ok with me. I don’t want the vet practice to go out of business, but I will not stop being an advocate for my pup. More of us who do titering, the more hard evidence there will be for us and the vets to recognize how wrong and risky vaccinating is, when unnecesarry.

  2. Thanks for the post! I have a little Yorkie and he is my everything! I would be so sad if I over vaccinated him! We always bring him to and they do a great job at telling me where i am at on vaccinations.

  3. We had a seven pound eight year old Yorkie. A vet insisted that she get three vaccinations (Rabies, Bordetella and Distemper) at once to prepare her for a future dental cleaning. The next day she began coughing uncontrollably. Following a week of more than a thousand dollars of tests and medications to make her stop, she fell out of her bed and died.

  4. Dear Nancy, I had bad vaccinosis from a rabies vaccines in both my Dobermans and learned that by titering them for the remainder of their lives that all their level were more than adequate and that they never needed to be revaccinated for anything again.I think the idea of giving all the shots at one time is something that should be avoided especially in young dogs. I feel it is much better to do one series at a time and let their bodies build a healthy immunity by not bombarding them with 4 different shots.I use the Rabies titre for proof.I would say that over vaccination isn’t just limited to dogs and cats but horses as well.Perhaps you could also mention the site of the injection becoming another issue . Thanks for bringing this will save alot of extra vet visits with this timely information.

  5. My vet told me this almost 3 years ago. I’m lucky to have a good one. Also the AWL, has recognized this for just as long, that the vaccination last 3 year’s not the one, for almost as long…..
    Frances Tiller

  6. Hi Lynn. Great question! In adult dogs, in lieu of automatically vaccinating at the three year interval, one has the option of running antibody titers for parvovirus and distemper. This measures the dog’s active immunity against that particular infectious disease. If high enough, one can forego the vaccine and repeat the titer one year down the road. Titers can also be run following a series of puppy vaccinations to be sure the individual has mounted a sufficient immune response. For the dog, the process is simple- drawing a blood sample. The testing itself can be a bit pricey. Titers can also be performed for rabies, but from a legal point of view, most state governments require the actual vaccine. Thanks for asking this question.

  7. I like this protocol, but need an explanation of “titer.” Is this some way of determining if the protection has worn off? Thanks for the help.

  8. I submit my Lilly (border collie) as Exhibit A >> every once in awhile a vaccine reaction becomes life threatening. << We are now 14 months and more than $20,000 into a life / death battle after she suffered a severe adverse reaction to a rabies vaccine. We WERE following the "new" guidelines, and this happened anyway.

    It truly breaks my heart. I will be taking an even more limited stance on vaccines for all future dogs.

  9. I went to titering my dogs every three years about 7 years ago. My 6-year-old hasn’t had anything except his puppy shots (with the exception of rabies, of course.) I’ll do anything that keeps them with me as long as I can!

  10. Thanks for writing on over vaccination. I began reading about over vaccination about 20 years ago and once I saw Dr. Dodds’ recommendation, I was convinced. The only time I have vaccinated against my better judgment was in order to board my dogs. Now I have an excellent pet sitter. My current vets use the 3-year protocol and nothing except rabies after age 10, and they don’t push me to do other vaccinations. I had a grooming shop for 20 years and my dogs, young and old, were always in my shop with never a problem. I never asked clients to see proof of vaccination but did want to know who their vet was on the assumption that if they had a regular vet they probably were current on rabies. I actually lost some customers because they were concerned that I didn’t check papers and who was I to question their vet’s advice.

    I am about to move to a rural area and think I am going to have a problem. I visited one clinic and they vaccinate for everything yearly, which will not happen to my dogs. I will be within 30 minutes of a small city so I’m hoping the vets there are more enlightened. There has to be at least one holistic vet there and I will hunt her/him down.

  11. In my Midwestern city, nobody seems to have heard of 3-year vaccines. At our old, single-practice vet, I could understand it. At the Humane Society’s clinic, probably the most technically advanced in town, I was surprised. At our neighborhood animal hospital, again, they’re clueless too. St. Louis is caught in a time warp
    I spent a very worried hour with a dog (Border collie/aussie shepherd) who experienced a vaccine reaction while we were still in the office; been there, done that. I keep thinking I’ll Just Say No when the doc brings in the needles. Haven’t had the nerve yet.

  12. I love this topic and am going try to do titers this year. I say try as both of my dogs are therapy dogs and am not sure titers will be accepted. Very fussy is TDI but will contact them to see what their new policy is for 2013. Won’t hold my breath tho. I have asked my vet to hold off on any shots except rabies for now.

  13. While adverse vaccine reactions are infrequent and most are mild, every once in awhile a vaccine reaction becomes life threatening.
    I disagree with this statement.I think that the side affects of vaccinations are overlooked by most veterinarians( unless holistic) and are much more severe than what you stated:

    In her book, What Vets Don’t Tell About Vaccines, Catherine O’Driscoll gives researched facts about that vaccines can cause encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain – encephalitis has many diverse symptoms, usually involving a highly sensitized state such as allergies, skin problems, behavioral problems, convulsions, eating disorders, and more-, they are mixed with deadly poisons, they can cause theseases they are designed to prevent, they shed into the environment, spreading disease, and they disarm and unbalance the immune system.
    I always follow Dr. Jean Dodd’s protocols.

    Here is Dr. Jean Dodds speaking about hypothyrodism and over vaccination(5:54) and the rabies challenge fund:
    Dogs Naturally Magazine recently had this great article on rabies miasm:

  14. Hi Carole,
    Great question, but not one with a simple answer. More important than the presence of deer in your neighborhood is the presence of ticks infected with the bacteria that can cause Lyme disease when transmitted from the tick to the host on which it feeds. Ask your veterinarian if Lyme disease is frequently diagnosed in your neck of the woods. If the answer is “No” I would advise against vaccinating. If “Yes” then you must consider the risks and benefits of the vaccine. Most dogs exposed to the Borrelia organism never develop any symptoms of Lyme disease. Additionally, the vaccination is not 100% effective. In lieu of the vaccine, one might want to consider aggressive tick control and close observation looking for the early hallmark symptoms of Lyme disease (most commonly lethargy and joint tenderness/stiff gait). Hope this information is helpful.

    Best wishes,
    Dr. Nancy

  15. What about the Lyme Disease vaccination? We live in an area with several deer. Thanks.

  16. I ditto Barb’s comments, Dr. Kay. I have a senior dog and am wondering the same thing? Lexi also deals with suspected IBD so I like to err on the side of caution when it comes to any procedures for her.

    Thanks, as always, for sharing an enlightened veterinarian’s approach :-)

  17. Thanks for stating this yet again. It is so important, a huge issue, IMO, for maintaining the health of our loved animals. And so heartbreaking when it goes wrong.

    My (now dearly departed) Maggie suffered a rabies vaccination reaction some years ago (thanks again for your help!) and it frightened me into learning as much as I could about these issues. After recovering from that incident, Maggie was titered and never needed another vaccination the remainder of her life.

    Now I have an adopted 3-yo dog, who came to me a year ago with vaccinations up to date. I have yet to locate a vet in the rural area where I now live that I am confident with. Esme did see someone for a health checkup shortly after her adoption. Unfortunately, I was not too impressed and continue to search farther and farther afield for the “right” vet to take her for her spring checkup in the next month or so.

    This is something that shouldn’t be hard — but it is!

  18. My vet was resistant to the change early on. I would not let him vaccinate and he would make me sign a release. An uneasy peace 😉 But he has changed his tune, and now goes with the 3 year protocol. I still titer though because there’s just no reason to take the risk if there’s no reason. Of course it costs a lot more to titer than just accept the shot, but it’s worth it to me.

  19. Thank you very much for this Nancy. I do titers for my critters. I haven’t revaccinated them since their first booster. As you know, most of my dogs live well past 16 yrs of age. I have a 15 yr old indoor/outdoor cat who is the picture of health and loves his life.

    I am so appreciative of your continued education on booster vacc’s.

    aka Shewhisperer Dog Training

  20. Thanks for posting this, Dr. Kay. I’m with you. I do titer my dogs, even at the three year mark, to determine if they need to be vaccinated. My oldest boy, almost 12, seems to lose immunity faster than the younger two.

    So here’s a topic for another column. How much should one vaccinate the senior citizen pets? I continue to vaccinate my boy, thinking that I would be very upset if he died of complications from a preventable disease. But I don’t vaccinate unless his immunity is down.